From the moment that a remake of Disney's Aladdin was first rumored, the biggest hurdle to the movie's success was clear. How in the world do you cast anybody else to take on the role made famous by Robin F'ing Williams? It seemed like pure madness that Disney would even try. In the end, Will Smith was the one chosen to be the live-action Genie, and based on the fact that the movie has made over $1 billion, the idea seems to have been a good one.
Aladdin producer Dan Lin says that, in addition to the shoes that needed to be filled, the role was also a complex one to cast, because it required a varied skill set, the ability to sing, dance, be funny and also dramatic. In the end, he tells ComicBook.com that Smith was the right choice because he brought his own style to the role and made it his own. According to Lin...
And so Will Smith, if you look closely at the Genie, is influenced by what he did so well in Hitch and what he did so well with Fresh Prince. This is a hip hop genie and so it's very specific to Will. No other actor could have done this the way he did, in the same way no other actor could have done the genie the way Robin Williams did. They are so iconic and so the way Will interpreted the Genie was to make an iconic character that only he can play that is very true to himself. And that's what really excited us and allowed us to differentiate and stand out from the previous Aladdin movie.
It's certainly true that the version of the Genie that we get in the live-action Aladdin is a very specific sort of character, one that only Will Smith could have been. He made the character his own and beyond the fact that the Genie sings the same songs and is blue, he has little in common with his animated predecessor. No impressions, more style.
Whatever you think of the live-action Aladdin, this was clearly the right way to approach the role. Anything that more closely resembled Robin Williams' performance would have been unfavorably compared to it. Smith's work was still compared, mostly unfavorably, to Williams, but it's easier to separate the two because they are so different. Nobody else could have done what Robin Williams did with the character and nobody else could copy Will Smith's performance either, at least not without looking like that all they were doing.
The performance was such a success that Dan Lin has confirmed that the idea of a sequel to the live-action version is being explored. The animated hit had a pair of direct to video sequels that the remake could pull from, or we could see something entirely new created to followup on this one.